WADDINGTON, N.Y. — In their previous two Bassmaster College Series National Championship appearances, Hayden Scott and Griffin Fernandes of Adrian College had not been able to push themselves into the final-day cut.
They finally achieved that goal by catching 20 pounds, 6 ounces during Friday’s second round of the 2021 Carhartt Bassmaster College National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops on the St. Lawrence River. They now lead the 125-boat field with a two-day total of 43-4.
The Murray State University duo of Adam Puckett and Brendan Bingham is only 7 ounces behind in second, heading into Championship Saturday.
“I’m really excited,” Fernandes said. “This is my first championship cut and the third one I’ve fished. I’m ready to get back out there and see what we can do. We are around big fish and I think we have a lot of good stuff to rotate tomorrow. We just have to hope that the right ones pull up when we are there.”
Scott and Fernandes have come close to winning a College Series event in the past, finishing second as recently as this year at Smith Lake.
“We’ve come so close at so many events,” Scott said. “Going into this event, we knew this was going to be our best shot to pull one off. We are pretty excited to get after it tomorrow. We know we are around them.”
The team from Adrian, Mich., entered the second day in third with 22-14 and started on the same rotation that produced the majority of their weight the previous day. The bite didn’t materialize until later in the morning, starting with a 3-pounder.
After finding a local boat already on a spot they wanted to fish, they pulled up on a new stretch and immediately found success.
“We pull up and we catch a 6-pounder,” Fernandes said. “That was a good start and then we started rotating everything in the area and we caught another really big one. We made small upgrades here and there throughout the day.”
That smallmouth officially weighed 5-9 and was the Big Bass of the day. The spot that produced their biggest bite of the day set up similarly to the other areas in the rotation, and Scott said landing those big fish has given them the confidence to stick with their program.
“After practice, we really weren’t sure what we were going to catch. We could either come in with 13 pounds or 20 pounds,” Scott said. “So, to start off the morning with a 3-pounder and then catch that kicker right off the bat, it rejuvenates us to keep grinding and keep working through it. Once you catch a fish like that, you know you need to catch a solid limit to have a shot.”
After starting the day in seventh, Puckett and Bingham landed 22-0 to move into second with a two-day total of 42-13. Puckett will be attempting to win his second national championship of his college career after winning the FLW National Championship in 2019.
During the first two hours of the day, Puckett said he and Bingham landed only one of their first five bites, but kept moving through their rotation and found success later in the day.
“We just stuck with it. Where we got bites, we knew we would get bites. They just showed up,” Puckett said. “We went back into an area that we caught a 5-pounder in and Bingham caught one that was 3 pounds and culled one of our smallest fish. It was a big cull for us.”
Throughout the week, Puckett and Bingham’s bigger bites have been spread out. Their main focus has been on underwater current breaks. They have only seen one other boat fish one of their spots and they believe a lot of other teams are overlooking what they have found.
“It turned out you would catch a 4-pounder and then maybe a little one and that would be it,” Bingham said. “Today, we got to hit a few spots more (than Thursday). We went back to a couple of spots where we caught some earlier in the day and they were there again. It seems like it reloads slowly. They are up there to feed and it is a specific spot.”
Jacob Woods and Samuel Vandagriff from Tennessee Tech caught 19-14 on Day 2 to lift them from sixth place to third with 40-14.
“It is definitely a learning curve up here. He’s from middle Tennessee and I’m from East Tennessee,” Woods said. “This is all new to us and we are having a blast.”
In practice, the duo struggled to find productive smallmouth water, but at one particular spot they caught one fish. That one fish was enough for them to gravitate to that area during competition, and they caught the majority of their weight in that location.
Woods and Vandagriff did, however, start the tournament fishing for largemouth on Day 1 and caught a 5-pounder.
“Yesterday, we got down there and caught two 5-pound smallmouth and ended up with 21 pounds,” Woods said. “This morning we went straight to that spot, sat there and mined it for all its worth. It produced today. It was a very blessed day.”
While Scott and Fernandes claimed the biggest bass of the day, Tripp Bowman and Blakely Young from Louisiana State University-Shreveport remained in control of the Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament with a 6-10 smallmouth they caught on Day 1.
The Top 12 punched their tickets to Championship Saturday and will take off at 6:30 a.m. ET from Whittaker Park. The weigh-in will be held back at the park at 2:30 p.m., with the Top 3 teams after the final day qualifying for the College Classic Bracket.
This week’s tournament is being hosted by the Village of Waddington, St. Lawrence County Chamber and Clarkson University. The tournament is also supported by a Market New York grant from I LOVE NY/New York State’s Division of Tourism awarded as part of the Regional Economic Development Council initiative. The tournament and all associated festivities are being planned to ensure the safety of athletes, staff and guests.